NEW YORK — As TVs get thinner and lighter, the sound systems almost always get less refined. (Barring some very expensive innovations, that is.) You simply can't fit a powerful driver into a tiny space.
A soundbar is the traditional solution, but Roku believes that it can do better — especially since the Roku OS powers a huge chunk of smart TVs. The Roku TV Wireless Speakers are exactly what they sound like, and could help Roku TV owners get a much more powerful aural experience. The two speakers, along with two remote controls, will be available in late October for $200.
During a private meeting, Roku representatives showed off the speakers firsthand. Without a comparable soundbar on hand, it's hard to tell how they sound compared to the competition. But up against a standard TV, the wireless speakers transform an ordinary living room into a soundscape worthy of — well, not quite a movie theater, but definitely something in line with a good pair of headphones.
The wireless speakers themselves are on the plain side: two black cylinders about a foot high, which go on either side of a TV. They connect to Roku OS TVs via Wi-Fi, although they also contain Bluetooth technology in case you'd like to use them for your phone, tablet or computer.
Roku's wireless speakers transform an ordinary living room into a soundscape comparable to a good pair of headphones.
More important than how they look, though, is how they sound. The Roku representatives rigged up two identical Roku TVs: one with standard speakers, one with the wireless speakers. We listened to songs from Lorde and Bob Marley, then fired up Hulu to watch a clip from Transformers: The Last Knight. (Side note: Aside from testing audio, there's not much reason to watch Transformers: The Last Knight.)
In every comparison, I noticed that the lower frequencies benefited tremendously from the speakers. In the Lorde and Bob Marley songs, I could hear the bassline clearly, but what surprised me most was the extent to which the speakers emphasized the drums. With the standard TV speaker, I'd hardly heard them at all. Transformers: The Last Knight, being a Michael Bay movie, had more than its fair share of explosions, which sounded impactful and immediate. I did notice, however, that dialogue didn't sound much clearer on the wireless speakers, implying that its treble range may be pretty similar to what users already have.
The wireless speakers will come with one high-end Roku remote, which has a headphone jack and voice search capabilities. But the more interesting addition is a second, audio-centric remote. The small, square-ish remote does not require a direct line of sight with the speakers, and has play/pause, fast-forward, rewind and volume buttons. There are also two buttons that users can program themselves: a feature that I've always thought could be a real benefit for Roku remotes.
Roku representatives believe that the speakers offer three distinct advantages over a traditional soundbar. First and foremost, putting some distance between the left and right channels gives a deeper and more nuanced soundscape; in a soundbar, they have to be right next to each other by necessity. Second, you can use larger drivers in an upright speaker; soundbars often have to cap out at just three inches or so, or risk blocking the screen.
But perhaps most important aspect of the speakers is that Roku can sync them perfectly with TVs that run its OS. Users will be able to tweak equalization profiles and dialogue modes through an app, yes, but Roku will also be able to ensure perfect synchronicity between the speakers and the picture. Some soundbars struggle with this, and require a lot of finagling to get right.
If you wait until the speakers to come out, they'll cost $200 for the bundle (two speakers, two remotes), as stated above. But if you preorder them now, you'll get them for $150 instead; after July 24, they'll cost $180 until Oct. 15. We'll get a full review out before the speakers launch, complete with comparisons to other TV audio accessories in the same price range.